In Surprised Praise of… the Met Police
Pigs, scum, copper, bobby, thugs, PC Plod, Old Bill, the force, the filth. The Metropolitan Police has been – and is – and will be – a controversial institution. As a fickle young thing, just graduated from LSE, I weighed up my options and decided to have a chat with my local WPC about the pros and cons of joining the cops, figuring that, while I wasn’t really gonna be up for much in the way of brutal interrogation, I might be okay at analysing patterns of crime and making tea.
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “You absolutely have to join! We really need people who know how to talk, instead of use their fists!”
Okay… not quite what I was expecting to hear. Thrilled though I was at the enthusiasm of her approach, the idea that I might be joining an organisation where fists were in and words were out, didn’t really appeal to me. And so instead I chose technical theatre; slightly different.
And then of course, there was the great Anti-Social Crisis 2010, when someone on my estate started shouting abuse through my letter box. Reason didn’t exactly work; neither did ignoring him. Eventually I went to the council, who sent a very nice man round to assess my flat for noise pollution before reluctantly concluding that really, I wasn’t hiding a power drill and a drumkit in my sock drawer and probably didn’t merit the abuse I was receiving. Then, when the anti-social bane of my life started threatening to hurt me through the letter box – ‘yeah, because you gotta stop, yeah’ – I called the police non-emergency number and had a bit of a cry. You gotta consider the context. Youthful female, rather tired, rather strung out, after weeks of civilized abuse being poured through her door, finally receives physical threats in the wee hours of the night. Yes, I cried. And to my astonishment, the very nice lady on the other end of the phone immediately sent round two coppers – and I kid you not, they were called Bob and Dave, I couldn’t believe my luck – who listened to my story and politely offered to break the door down of the man who was threatening me.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I said. “I can’t see how that’s going to improve my situation.”
Eventually, I went to the local police station to file a report. My local cop shop was pretty busy in the middle of the day; I had to queue up to tell my story, which I did, to a very sympathetic WPC who gave me a pad of paper and told me to write it all down. This I did, and had to queue up again to hand it in. Only of course by now, the WPC had been replaced by a bloke, to whom I had to tell the entire story again, while explaining I just wanted to file a report.
“What do you expect us to do about it?” he demanded curtly. “He hasn’t hurt you. He hasn’t touched you.”
“Yes,” I explained, “But he’s threatening to hurt me, and I’m in no hurry to be hurt, and all I want is to make sure there’s a record of this on file in case this happens again.”
He stared at me for a long while, with that inestimable expression best described as ‘who is this joker’ before asking me to step into a side room. Good god, I thought, am I about to be done for wasting police time?
“I don’t see what the problem is,” he exclaimed. “He can’t get to you. Shouting through your letterbox isn’t a crime.”
(Technically, by the by, I believe it is, in this particular context. One of the perks of studying at LSE is you know a lot of lawyers. I mean, no, we’re not talking crime of the century but then again… are we going to wait for the promised physical violence to manifest? Is that really going to be less paperwork?)
“Can I talk to the woman I talked to before?” I asked. “It might be easier.”
Reluctantly, this WPC was fetched and the difference was immediate. “Of course, I completely understand!” she exclaimed. “It must be so distressing! I’m going to give you a report number and advice you to talk to your council’s anti-social behaviour unit. If you have any trouble, any at all, this is the number to call…”
As I left, I mused over the difference one person can make, and concluded that actually, so far, I’d had a 75% positive hit rate with the Met Police. The telephone operator who decided I was in present danger… Bob and Dave, offering to break down a door at my command… the nice woman behind the reception desk at the local police station, patiently listening to my not-particularly-remarkable tale of woe… and really, in all this, only one duffer, only one plonker who just didn’t get what my problem was. All in all, I concluded, I was impressed.
Then, not that long ago, a friend had her phone nicked. Again, we called the police non-emergency number, and within an hour three detectives were stood in my living room taking her statement. I never got their names, but by their manner we had two plain clothes constables and a sergeant who exuded such cliched been-round-the-block street savvy, he might as well have had ‘sarge’ tattooed on his forehead. Mobiles phones are nicked in London all the time, but these three blokes were patient, understanding, sympathetic, thorough and polite. As one of them took her statement, another was on his radio, giving information direct to a control centre to scan for CCTV footage of the suspect, and the third…
“I’m tweeting,” he explained, and seeing my face added, “Sorry, this isn’t me just tweeting randomly. We – that is, the met – we’ve got a twitter account for the local force, so whenever we get suspect descriptions, we can tweet them live. Unfortunately we’ve only got a 150 character limit on twitter, so we’re starting up a facebook page too.”
A Metropolitan Police… facebook page?
“Yeah, with like, CCTV of wanted suspects, and live crime updates and that, to get the community involved, you know?”
“It sounds,” said a friend, when I told her about it later, “Like a recipe for witch hunts. Or maybe it sounds like the way social media ought to be used. I don’t know.”
It’s very easy to condemn the Met. News stories break all the time… racism, corruption, thuggery, and all these things are unforgivable, under any circumstances. You hear tales of bad coppers who can’t be bothered, of unsympathetic coppers, of cops who didn’t care and won’t try, who were cruel in the face of pain, or dismissive in the face of crime. And it’s almost certainly true. But in my very limited experience, the vast majority of coppers in London are symbols of safety, trust and comfort. They see humanity at its very worst; often hurt, hysterical or violent, but in that good news is never really news, you only ever seem to hear the tales of woe and inadequacy, never the stories of good cops, doing a good job. And at the end of the day even the most bilious cop-hater has to ask… what would society be without them?